Comité Fronterizo
de Obrer@s


For the labor rights and all human rights of the maquiladora workers

Spanish Version



Solidarity Group Visits Border


December 2001

By Greg Norman, AFSC-TAO intern
and Judith Rosenberg, Austin Tan Cerca de la Frontera

Over the weekend of October 12-14, 11 Austin residents visited two border towns, met with local labor organizers, toured the industrial parks owned by U.S. companies, and visited colonias where maquiladora workers live. The delegation was organized by Austin Tan Cerca de la Frontera (ATCF) or Austin So Close to the Border, a local group that promotes solidarity and support between Austinites and workers in the maquiladora industry. This is the tenth delegation that ATCF has sponsored in the last three years in cooperation with the Comité Fronterizo de Obreras (CFO) or Border Committee of Women Workers, a Mexican grassroots organization of maquiladora workers defending their rights under Mexican labor law.

Delegación de octubre de ATCF: Julia Quiñonez (CFO), Joey y Tom Kolker, Philip Russell, Greg Norman, Esther Cervantes, Ana Tereza Moreira Neres, Quent Reese, Margarita Ramirez (CFO), Carolyn Mow y Diva Moreira.

The delegation met workers in Piedras Negras and Ciudad Acuña. CFO organizers described two situations involving U.S. companies that are violating workers rights under the Mexican Constitution. Dimmit Industries, located in Piedras Negras and part of Galey & Lord, Inc., manufactured Levi's Dockers until the plant closed in August. Previously the company had illegally applied disciplinary statutes and suspensions against workers who organized to replace the company's hand-picked union leadership. Since
the closure the company refused to pay all severance entitlements as mandated by the country's labor codes.
In Acuña, the mayor has encouraged U.S. investment by banning labor unions. Despite this prohibition, nine workers at Plant 5 of Alcoa Fujikura, Ltd., a business unit of U.S. aluminum giant Alcoa, formed a committee to voice workers' grievances and negotiated a 33% pay raise for the 11,000 workers at Alcoa's ten plants. This year, these same workers organized a work stoppage to protest the treatment of two pregnant workers. A company bus struck one on her way to work, and Alcoa denied responsibility for the accident. A supervisor harassed the other and assigned her to heavier work until she miscarried. Workers say that maltreatment of women workers, especially pregnant women, is rampant. In response to the work stoppage, Alcoa fired 186 workers and refused their legally entitled severance pay. Among the 186 fired were the nine organizers, leaving workers without a voice in a hostile workplace environment.
En respuesta al paro laboral Alcoa despidió a 186 trabajadores y rehúsa pagarles la indemnización a la que tienen legalmente derecho. Entre los 186 despedidos estaban los nueve organizadores, dejando a los trabajadores sin voz en un ambiente de trabajo hostil.

The delegation's visit to a dusty colonia outside of Acuña provoked intense reactions. Austin lawyer Tom Kolker said, "It's difficult to drive into a colonia and see the cardboard houses, to meet incredible people that are fully employed and still living in these conditions." Joey Kolker, Tom's 14-year-old son said, "There is such huge
gap between how people live in Austin and how they live on the border. We are as close to the border as we are to Dallas."

Diva Moreira, a human rights activist from Bela Horizonte, Brazil and visiting scholar at the University of Texas' Institute of Latin American Studies, said, "I saw many similarities with what we experience in Brazil - poverty, slums, lack of infrastructure and strong exploitation from the capitalist system. It's the same all over."

The delegation also learned about plant closures resulting from the international recession. Approximately 305,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost in the last nine months and many companies fail to pay owed wages or severance packages.

Julia Quiñonez, a CFO organizer labeled an "agitator" by the local media, said that workers feel hope when they begin to understand their rights. "When the people organize, read, and understand their rights they develop new perspectives and ideas. We are working to build alliances in this global society, a society without borders. This is our response to globalization, a world without borders for people, not just capital," Quiñonez said.


    is produced in cooperation with the
Mexico-U.S Border Program
of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC)

Comité Fronterizo de Obrer@s (CFO)
Monterrey #1103, Col. Las Fuentes
Piedras Negras, Coahuila
C.P. 26010, México